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ARSCLIST  June 2007

ARSCLIST June 2007

Subject:

Re: Digitization of Paper Archives

From:

Karl Miller <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 13 Jun 2007 14:43:30 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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Terry Smythe <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
   
  ***I read the whole of this long article. It sums up a
researcher's greatest fears when it quotes Archivist Tom Staley
whose "coverting" focus clearly supersedes "sharing" :

> Tom Staley´s conservatism extends beyond his literary taste.
> He does not want to place archives online. He believes,
> quoting Matthew Arnold, that "the object as in itself it
> really is" can never be replaced by a digital reproduction.
   
  I should probably add something here. I have had the opportunity to work with Tom on a project and observe him, from something of a distance, during his entire tenure here in Texas. I  also digitized some of their holdings.
   
  The Ransom Center has indeed had a odd history. While I never met Harry Ransom, I did know his widow. According to all stories I have heard, Harry was not appreciated (I am politely understating) by many. Supposedly he took money from the library's operating funds and bought what interested him. From my perspective, that took a great deal of courage, and thank God he did what he did. He acquired great collections, some of which would have been completely lost. 
   
  I did know Dr. Turner, Staley's predecessor. I worked with him several times. Just to give you an idea of how things were at that time, the great American composer, educator and administrator, William Schuman was interested in DONATING his archives to UT. Bill called me and asked if UT would be interested. Bill's only specification was that photocopies could be made available on request and distributed to scholars. Since my responsibilities extended only to recordings, I called Turner. When I mentioned this to Turner he replied, "well if that is the case, you can tell Mr. Schuman to go to hell." Needless to say I was far more tactful in my response to Bill. So, for that reason and others, many collections never came here.
   
  As a bit of a sidebar, and without going into it all, changes by our relatively new library director (not associated with the Ransom Center) have sent many audio collections to different institutions...but I digress.
   
  Turner's standing policy was that absolutely no photocopies could be made. No exceptions. As it was explained to me, Turner was a collector who believed that the value of a collection was measured by its uniqueness. Someone once quoted him as saying, "if I am going to pay $X for something, making a photocopy of it is like throwing the money away."
   
  I also recall one of the regents suggesting arguements like, the justification for the money expended for collections is that the collections will attract scholars to visit the campus and might also act as an incentive to attract scholars to join the faculty. 
   
  Finally, after several years of pushing by scholars and the staff, the rules were changed and photocopies are now allowed, assuming the deposit agreements and the condition of the materials allow for the production of copies. For me, Tom's break with tradition was a bold step, even if at other institutions it might have been considered mandatory. 
   
  I should add, that while I might disagree with him on his perspective on this matter and others, I hold Tom in the highest regard and think he has done incredible things during his years here.
   
  ***Resrachers by and large, do not need to smell or feel the
original to gain value. The content is what's important.
By refusing to digitize, Tom Staley basically denies access to
all but a handful of researchers who happen to live nearby.

  As I reflect on the digitzation efforts done on this campus...I can't see that there wouldn't even be an adequate infrastructure to address such a task. Our library (not part of the Ransom Center) was given a substantial amount of money for a digitzation initiative. From what I have heard, over a year later, they still can't even decide what to digitize!
   
  As for not digitizing being an impediment to scholarship and research...it is, for me, nothing when compared to the limits imposed by the copyrights.
  
***Duke University's Digital Scriptorium has the right concept:

> To enhance access and aid preservation  etc.
   
  I would certainly agree.
   
  On the other hand, I do wonder if some of Tom's response came from a reflection of the "old ways," coupled with having to address the basic preservation/conservation needs of an immense collection, with minimal resources. Of course some will see digitzation as preservation, and I believe that in spite of the massive problems with the preservation of digital information, a good arguement can be made in support of that notion.
   
  ***I applaud ARSC's initiatives in archiving recorded sound as it
appears in grooves, wire, film or on tape. 
   
  I believe ARSC has done, especially these last few years, a terrific job in pointing the way, but I have seen few major institutions deciding to travel down that road. I used to think it was just a question of money, but, as we all know, if you want something enough, you can usually find a way. 
   
  ***But what efforts are being made to digitize the document history of the recording industry? Have major collectors donated their collection of
original literature to an institution? If so, what access is available today?

  Some are doing a good job. I can only add that because of the actions of our current director, the entire collection of the papers of Horace Grenell are now sitting in a bunch of boxes in his son's basement. 
  
***I am a long-time member of AMICA (Automatic Musical Instruments
Collectors Association), a worldwide group focusing on automatic
music which, to a certain extent, predates ARSC's special
interest in recorded sound. Like ARSC, AMICA also has its
archives housed at the University of Maryland.
   
  While I will have nothing other than praise for Don Manildi, you might ask why they haven't made recordings of those rolls available.  I don't mean that as being critical of Maryland, as I believe they find value in their collections and have done good work. Could more be done? No doubt.
   
  I am doing the best I can with the Welte rolls, and I have to do it on my own time. Our library (and University) wasn't interested in either acquiring a local collection of substance, documenting the collector's work, or making recordings available. As a result, I set up my own record label.
  
***I have made a modest beginning in this regard, by digitizing my
own collection of original literature, in addition to digitizing
~5,000 recordings on paper music rolls.
   
  Do you by any chance have the Lopatnikoff Welte Rolls?

***To see what I've done to digitize original literature, see:

http://members.shaw.ca/paud122/docs.htm

  I sincerely believe that some of the best work has, and is being done, by private collectors, for it is the collector who, in my experience, seems to really value the recording. In my experience, most institutions place value on those materials that provide visibility and prestige...good press.
   
  I should add that while Staley's main interests are literary, the Ransom Center is also home to a magnificent collection of music manuscripts including Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe, and a superb theater collection. It is truly one of the great libraries. We also have two other great libraries on campus, the Center for American History and the Benson Latin American Collection, which is probably the best collection of Latin American materials. Seeing what has happened here, I hate to think what will happen to the Ransom center when Tom Staley retires.
   
  Karl

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